After Mr. Q and I booked our May trip to Norway & Scotland, we happened to stumble across the TV show Shetland. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a BBC Scotland crime drama based on a series of books by Ann Cleeves. We binge watched seasons 1 and 2 before our trip. We fell in love with the unique landscapes that were used in the show (some of which aren’t really in Shetland at all, but mainland Scotland). Still, we were really looking forward to seeing the place for ourselves.
One of the main things you’ll notice is the lack of trees. I was curious about that so I googled it. According to this article from shetland.org, that is mainly due to the sheep rather than the climate.
Before I continue on about our day in Shetland, let me explain something. One of the really fun things about taking a cruise is the opportunity to meet people and get to know them a bit. These days on most cruise lines you’ll have some options for dining. You can choose ‘any-time dining’ where you just show up at the dining room and get seated anywhere, or you can choose a specific time slot and be seated at the same table with the same people every night. You can choose to have just a table for two (or however many are in your group), or you can do what Mr. Q and I like to do, choose to have additional dinner companions. On this cruise we chose the late seating (8 pm) and a table of 8.
We always feel like we are taking a bit of a risk with this option. What if we get stuck with a total bore? Or worse yet, someone totally obnoxious? But if that happens, you can always ask to be reassigned. So far we’ve always been lucky and have ended up with friendly, interesting dinner companions. This time we ended up with Ann & Alex from Australia, Craig & Cheri from California and Paul from Boston who was traveling on his own. What a great way for him to have company at dinner, right? We all got along really well and had some great conversations over dinner.
The reason I’m bringing this up now is because Mr. Q and I didn’t have any pre-booked plans for Shetland. While discussing this over dinner, Craig and Cheri (the couple from California) mentioned that they were renting a car in Lerwick and were planning to drive all over the island. So we asked if they happened to have some extra room in the back seat for us. They were willing to let us tag along, and we insisted on paying for half of the rental fee (a whopping $30) and considered it a total bargain.
By the way, kudos to Craig for being willing to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and on some very skinny winding roads at that. Not to mention some ‘single track’ roads, which I’ll talk about more when I post about the Isle of Skye.
Our first stop was the archaeological site, Jarlshof. This site was discovered in the 1890’s when some heavy storms washed away the surrounding vegetation. It was later excavated to reveal a series of dwellings that dated from 2500 BC to the 1600’s AD.
We rented the audio headsets and if you ever make it to Jarlshof I totally recommend this. You’ll get so much more out of the site if you have a little explanation of what you are looking at.
For example, the large structure in this next photo is the hall of what was the laird’s house. Those stones in the yard are exactly what they look like, grave stones. In this case, marking graves of shipwrecked sailors from the 1600’s.
After exploring Jarlshof we moved on to the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse.
This spot is known for bird watching. It wasn’t quite the right season for their famous Puffins, but we did see a couple. We also saw quite a few Guillemots. In addition, the lighthouse has some interesting historical displays such as the replica of the WWII radar station.
By the way, this next photo is taken from the parking lot. Yes, you have to walk from here up to the lighthouse, see it there at the tippy top?
Although they do allow cars to drive up and drop off handicapped visitors.
The next stop on our very well planned (by Cheri) itinerary was the Croft House Museum. I was so excited when Cheri mentioned they were planning to visit this spot. It was a place I had read about online and really didn’t think I would get a chance to see.
This is a mid-19th century croft that was lived in until the 1960’s. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of how people once lived in Shetland, with burning peat in the fireplace and box beds for keeping warm at night.
The inside was very dark, with low ceilings and even lower doorways, but I bet it felt like a really warm, snug refuge from the wind and rain on cold winter days.
Of course, there was no rain on our day in Shetland (although wind is another story) as we continued to be really lucky with the weather.
Our last stop of the day was Scalloway Castle.
Construction on Scalloway began in 1599 by Patrick Stewart, the Earl of Orkney. Apparently Black Patie was not a good guy. He was a ruthless tyrant who oppressed the Shetland people and was ultimately executed.
It does have a bit of a sinister vibe, right?
Not much remains except the shell of the castle, but it was interesting to see how it was constructed. This was a fun stop for us as well because there was a great chase scene in Shetland (the TV show) that was filmed inside Scalloway Castle. By the way, we heard that they were going to be filming some parts of season 3 the day after we were in Lerwick. Dang! We just missed seeing it.
All in all, sharing a rental car with friends turned out to be an incredible way to spend the day in Shetland. We saw 4 different sights that would have been separate shore excursions from the ship each one costing more than our share of the car for the full day.
If you are brave enough to drive in a foreign country, this is definitely the way to go. And honestly, once we got out of Lerwick the roads were mostly empty here. The most complicated part of the journey was getting out of the parking lot at the port!
Our next stop is the Isle of Skye, check back next Wednesday to hear more about the seat of the MacLeod of MacLeod, Castle Dunvegan, and what ended up being the most disappointing touring experience from our trip.